THE BEST OF DAYS
By Margaret Leggatt
Simon relaxes as he pulls into the driveway. He can see Eloise through the lace curtains, standing by the sink, preparing dinner. It’s Friday and he’s home with his family.
They laugh at him, he knows, when he declines to join them for Friday drinks. He sees their snide looks. They think he’s odd. He doesn’t care. He’s the best designer they’ve got and they know it. His latest models are breathtakingly realistic, and their competitors have noticed.
It’s been hard for Simon, living alone. Eloise has been feeling off-colour of late; a holiday would be restorative, he thought, and he was right. He picked them up yesterday and brought them home with a glad heart, and now life can return to normal. Eloise’s colour is back; her hair lustrous again. How he’s missed them.
He locks the car in the garage, strolls out back and stands, taking it all in. The scent of damp earth and cut grass mingles with the spicy pungency of the herbs in Eloise’s garden. He stretches, breathes deeply, as if he would absorb this time and place into himself, into his lungs and blood and flesh. He continues around to the front, collects the mail and snaps off a daisy from a bush by the front porch. For Eloise.
“Hi everyone. I’m home,” he calls. Eric and Jen are in the lounge room, in front of the TV. At three and five, they’re good kids. He turns on the cartoon channel, and lingers behind them for a moment, staring at the colourful images over the tops of their heads. “Only an hour now,” he reminds them. “Then dinner.” He gives each curly head a kiss.
He takes a bottle of cool white wine from the fridge, pours two glasses, and gives one to Eloise. He puts her daisy in a glass of water and strokes her cheek, downs his drink and pours himself another.
Eloise is busy with dinner. Simon loves to watch her cook. He picks up a bowl of vegetables, and sits at the table, peeling and chopping, enjoying his wine and telling Eloise about his day. They chat about the garden, Eric’s progress at school and baby Jen’s antics at home. She’s starting to assert herself, to know what she wants, and Simon is pleased. It’s important that children learn how to be themselves.
At dinner, Simon encourages conversation. Mealtimes are for more than food, they’re times for a family to be together, for building memories. He knows Eric and Jen have the usual squabbles, but he’s proud of how quickly they’ve learnt that mealtimes are special.
Then it’s bedtime for the little ones, and when the hullabaloo is over and they’re tucked in, each with a storybook and a promised half hour with the light on, just because it’s Friday, Simon and Eloise settle on the lounge.
A photo album on the coffee table catches Simon’s eye. He picks it up and flips through. “Oh, look dear, here’s you coming home from hospital with Eric. What a tiger he was – so big. Remember how we had to buy all new clothes for him? Nothing you’d prepared fitted him. And this one: our first Christmas. Look at that tree!”
They don’t notice the time passing. Eloise leans on him, her eyes softly closed, and he knows it’s time to put away their memories and go to sleep. Eloise still isn’t strong.
He helps her upstairs and they prepare for bed. He slips in beside her, and holds her tight. It’s ten o’clock, a late night for Eloise. She’s soon asleep. He feels the slipperiness of her nightgown under his fingers, the curves of her body beneath it. Her dark, glossy hair spreads over the pillow, and a strand falls across her face. He gently brushes it back, careful not to rouse her. He’s behind her, his cheek resting on her back, his arm draped across her waist, their knees angled together. They’re a good fit, he and Eloise.
Morning comes as a shock. There’s a banging and shouting to wake the dead. Then the bedroom door opens and it’s Eric. No, it’s a man who could be Eric. He’s stocky and tall, with a day’s beard and a mess of dark, curly hair. Simon holds Eloise close.
“Dad! What’s all this? What have you done? Your boss called me. Three life-sized silicon dolls are missing again and he’s running out of sympathy, and patience. What are we going to do about you? Mum’s been gone for twenty years. You need to get a grip.”
Simon sighs. He sits on the edge of the bed, head in hands, as his Eloise is lost again, her limp body surrendered to the hands of strangers.